November 11, 2020

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What a week it’s been! I hope you’ve had a chance to take a breath, catch up on sleep and stop seeing red-and-blue maps every time you close your eyes (or was that just me?).

Four student editors shared how their publications covered Election Day that stretched into election week, all while juggling schoolwork and working remotely amid the pandemic.

The MSU Spokesman, Morgan State University

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Brianna Taylor, managing editor: “The 2020 general election was unique for Baltimore because not only did residents vote for the 46th president, they also voted to fill several seats within the city’s political realm including mayor, Baltimore City Council president and the 7th Congressional District seat, to name a few. It was our job to not only report, but simplify the election on both a national and local scale. That meant pushing graphics and surveys on Instagram and providing hourly updates as states tallied votes.

With a staff of 18 undergraduates working remotely, who were also wrapping up midterm assignments, to say pushing content out during the week of Nov. 3 and the days that followed was difficult is an understatement. But it was doable with a group of students who enjoy what they do — and it shows in our analytics.

So what did Election Day look like for a scattered news team? It looked like far too many Slack messages, being in constant communication with the social media manager and being glued to your laptop waiting for any type of update from either the writer or the news itself. But now that the president has been decided, The Spokesman is working on follow-up stories centered around what the Biden administration means for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) including Morgan State, the largest HBCU in the state of Maryland.”

The Eagle, American University

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Daniel Papscun, campus life editor: “If this was a normal year, we’d all have jumped into watch parties on campus and talked with students at the polls in D.C. Instead, we coordinated online. Approximately 25 staffers in four teams from across the U.S. worked together via Zoom, Slack and Google Drive, concentrating on student reactions, major AU state races (including three swing states), professor commentary and campus political groups, respectively.

Starting at 8 p.m. Eastern on election night, the teams filed updates every few minutes, and we ran our Election Night Live Blog until just before 2 a.m. That ended up being exhausting, especially after a day of prep, meetings and pre-reporting, but our staff handled it incredibly well, managing to push regular updates out right until the end. Each update was reviewed by a variety of editors, both for copy and content, before publication.

We concentrated on the unique perspectives we can offer: student experiences and hopes, commentary from expert professors, and analysis of races that impact large numbers of our community in states like New Jersey and California. Overall, it went surprisingly smoothly, especially as it’s the first time our paper has attempted anything even remotely like this, as far as I’m aware. As the week wore on, we continued updating our liveblog with the information most relevant to AU students. On Saturday, after the Associated Press called Pennsylvania for Biden, our news team collaborated to produce a story about the AU community’s reaction to the news.”

The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, Johns Hopkins University

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Michelle Limpe, news and features editor: “We knew that because of the unique circumstances presented by the pandemic with increased mail-in ballots, the results of the election would most probably not be released on the night of Nov. 3, Election Day. Because of this, we published an article about students’ reactions and apprehensions surrounding Election Night on Nov. 4.

Because we knew that we had to be ready to have an article published as soon as possible once the results were announced, we already had a writer lined up from the week before to take the piece. The editors were aware that it can take longer to reach out to people and conduct interviews due to our remote operations. To compensate for this challenge, the writer had already scheduled interviews with different groups on campus, such as Hopkins Democrats, Hopkins Feminists Club and Female Leaders of Color before the winners were even announced in order to quickly get their comments on the results once they went live.

When the election results were announced the following Saturday, the editors were also available to aid the writer if need be in conducting interviews and piecing the article together.”

The Columbia Chronicle, Columbia College Chicago

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Kendall Polidori, co-editor-in-chief: “For election night, our publication had six photojournalists on the ground visiting various polling places across the city all day. At each polling place they interviewed a number of voters and took portraits of them for a voter portrait series, which was posted on our website last night. The photojournalists remained in downtown Chicago for the entirety of the night in case any rallies or protests were to arise. Myself and two other reporters were in constant communication with them — taking their interviews and developing a summary of Election Day/night story.

In addition to that, my co-editor-in-chief Mari Devereaux and I interviewed a handful of students and experts to get an overall sense of how people were feeling and what they should expect. Throughout the day we were also live-tweeting important updates and posting continuously on our Instagram story. I was a guest speaker on (a local radio station) to talk about the general mood of the election, election fatigue and the specific coverage the Chronicle was doing.

We had an election team of six photojournalists and three editors on call every single day in case something were to be announced or if a protest/rally were to occur. On Saturday, Nov. 7, our team jumped on the news right away and were in constant communication.”

Poynter training opportunity

Poynter has a new open records course designed specifically for students. Barbara Allen, Poynter’s director of college programming, writes: “If you’ve never made a records request, this course will give you the confidence and skills you need. It was designed with college students in mind, but honestly, anyone who wants to learn how to make records requests can learn not just how to do so effectively, but what kinds of records to request, when and from who.”

One story worth reading

A Kentucky State Police training slideshow that was used as recently as 2013  included quotes from Adolf Hitler and urged each new cadet to be a “ruthless killer,” the Manual RedEye at Dupont Manual High School reported. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear condemned the training after reading the high school publication’s scoop. The publication obtained the training documents from a local attorney, who requested them during the discovery phase of a lawsuit.

Opportunities and trainings

💌 Most recent newsletter: A pep talk before Election Day

📣 I want to hear from you. What would you like to see in the newsletter? Have a cool project to share? Email blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com.

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